As Routt County’s special events grow, process to permit them may need updates |

As Routt County’s special events grow, process to permit them may need updates

County permitted 22 special events in 2022, with the largest being SBT GRVL with 3,000 riders

Riders on the Black Course cruise down Fly Gulch just 10 miles into the SBT GRVL race on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

While Routt County’s gravel roads have been heralded as some of the best out there, some county residents aren’t fond of how big some special events that use them have gotten.

The summer bike race SBT GRVL has grown to about 3,000 participants, the largest of the 22 different events permitted to use county roads each year. County Public Works Director Mike Mordi said the race and other events have spurred complaints from residents, which has him reviewing the county’s event permitting process.

“Some citizen complaints range from ‘they take over the road for days before’ to ‘one of my employees almost ran into the pack that was out there,’” Mordi told county commissioners Monday, Oct. 31.

In response to these complaints — which in many instances boil down to the person complaining not knowing the event was happening — Mordi has been reviewing how other counties permit special events to assess if the county’s system needs any updates.

Mordi said generally, an event like SBT GRVL or the Steamboat Marathon, would submit an application with what roads they would be on, what traffic control measures they need and any other event details. Depending on the event, they may also need to consult with other county departments like the Sheriff’s Office or Environmental Health. 

Like in other counties, the public doesn’t have an opportunity to comment on events during the permitting process, though Mordi said they try to resolve complaints when possible. For example, trash was an issue during the first year of SBT GRVL and that has been addressed in subsequent permits, Mordi said.

In response to a question from Commissioner Tim Redmond, Mordi said there could maybe be better communication to property owners impacted by certain events by organizers, but even that could only do so much.

“I’ve found that even in the Public Works department, if we have a road closure for a project, I have Steamboat Radio, I put it in the paper, put it on our social media,” Mordi said. “But I still got complaints because we didn’t put the variable message board out.”

Redmond said it has always been a “soar spot” for him when residents complain about not seeing a variety of messaging about an event or road closure.

“Do I have to come knock on your door?” Redmond asked.

“Yes, that is the request I’ve gotten,” Mordi said. “I’ve also received requests that any resident within a half mile of a special event route needs to receive a letter.”

County Attorney Erick Knaus chimed in to say with an event like SBT GRVL, which uses 150 miles of gravel roads, sending everyone a letter isn’t very practical.

“I think we can all anticipate these types of uses are probably only going to grow,” said Commissioner Beth Melton.

Melton also noted that the current system seems inconsistent with how other events would get approval.

If a rancher wants to hold 10 weddings a year on their private property, it would require a special-use permit, which needs to go through the whole planning process including Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners approval, while events that use public roads have a lesser process and no public input, she noted.

“I think about how vastly different our process is for a one-time event versus maybe a 10-time event,” Melton said. “It seems odd to me conceptually.”

County Manager Jay Harrington said they intend to continue to review the special event permitting process more, and Monday’s discussion was just the beginning. One thing they may need to decide is how big would be too big to allow an event on county roads.

Melton added the county should also dig into how much they spend to permit and assist these events, as there currently is no fee to obtain a special event permit. Mordi’s review showed many other counties charge anywhere from $50 to more than $600 for special events.

“Generally speaking, someone is making money off of this event,” Melton said. “If we are essentially spending taxpayer dollars in order to enable this event to happen in someway, I think we should expect to be reimbursed for that.”

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